Jon Krakauer’s Missoula: A Much Needed Education in Understanding Rape Culture

Missoula

Jon Krakauer’sMissoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town” is an exceptional piece of work that seamlessly marries narrative and fact in a heartbreaking story of how our culture (and by definition, our justice system) marginalizes sexual assault victims in defense of status quo stereotypes. Missoula chronicles the story of several college-aged women, who by no fault of their own, found themselves on the receiving end of sexual assaults perpetrated by known and trusted friends. Defenders of the Missoula District Attorney’s office and the University of Montana (primarily their athletic department) maintain that such reports were no more credible than a modern day witch hunt. Such a characterization, as Krakauer points out, was likely because Missoula and the University of Montana had prevalence rates on par with other college towns. It’s not that Missoula actually was the “rape capital of the country,” as some had put it, but the normality of victim blaming obfuscated the problem in this country so completely that when the entire history of the University of Montana’s handling of the problem became public, it was easier to blame the city of Missoula than a cultural norm we all shared some responsibility in. Some of the excuses law enforcement gave for not prosecuting these crimes involved some exceptional mental gymnastics, such as believing that these women were claiming rape because they had cheated on their boyfriends and did not want to own up to it. What is ridiculous about this assumption is that if one were cheating (on their boyfriend or their girlfriend), would it not just be easier to lie about it and not say anything rather than make up a story about rape? In each of these cases, no one else besides the perpetrator and the victim knew about the assaults, so why concoct a lie about cheating when no need existed to tell such a lie in the first place. Such bizarre explanations outline the utter resistance people have believing assault victims and holding (mostly) men accountable for their misuse of power. Like the Kent case, this resistance was not relegated to just men. Likewise, the victim supporters were not just other women. Kirsten Pabst, the Missoula County Prosecutor at the time, notoriously denied the reports of the victims under her watch, so much so, a Department of Justice investigation led to many well-needed and mandatory reforms. Most compelling was Krakauer’s inclusion of Dr. David Lisak’s work, Forensic Psychologist and former researcher at UMass Boston, whose research suggested that one reason many serial rapists go undetected is because their primary strategy is to gain the trust of their victims first. There is no more iconic example of this than Bill Cosby. The strategy will remain powerful as long as victim blaming is such a pervasive part of American culture. Like we discovered with Cosby’s serial pattern, rarely are campus/acquaintance rapes just a one-time misunderstanding between two people. Only about 6% of men in the population have committed undetected date/acquaintance rape and 63% of these are repeat offenders who average about 6 assaults per offender by the time they are in their early to mid 20’s. As Krakauer notes, “A very small number of men in the population…had raped a great many women with utter impunity.” Realizing this fact is a cultural awareness we have yet to grasp.

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